Thursday, 2 April 2009

Q & A: The Hon. Sandra Kanck

Name: The Hon. Sandra Kanck

Role: Former South Australian MLC. South Australia spokesperson for Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR)
Date: March 2009

A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded … Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.
-Abraham Lincoln
Sandra asked me if I could include the above quote from Abraham Lincoln. It seems like an apt summary of her political career and the basis for many of her principles. The Hon. Sandra Kanck was a member of the SA parliament for over 15 years which included being state leader for The Australian Democrats. During her time in politics, she was constantly hounded by the MSM and fellow politicians for her uncompromising views on social issues. The problem with criticising Sandra Kanck is that she is usually right and is only ever guilty of not conforming to the dismal practices within Australian politics. Her pragmatism and dedication to human rights are legendary in Australia and she will be sadly missed from South Australian politics where, more than ever, they need her now.

About Sandra Kanck:
Having grown up in a family of nine, and with a background as an anti-nuclear, peace and environmental activist, a commitment to community is an essential base of Sandra's work. To keep sane she indulges in a weekly workshop and occasional performance of acappella gospel singing.

More from Wikipedia


You have taken on the role of spokesperson in SA for Families and Friends of Drug Law Reform. Can you tell us what you will be doing?
During my time as an MP I was almost the only person in South Australia regularly commenting on and criticising the policies of the state government in regard to drug laws (although occasionally Dr David Caldicott has spoken out). As SA spokesperson for FFDLR I intend that the state government’s policies continue to be put under the microscope, so that there is a voice continuing to criticise stupid policies.

You have strong views on local drug policy. Where did your interest come from?
I generally take a scientific, rationalist/humanist approach to issues. Becoming an MP back in 1993 meant looking at drug laws in the same light, and it was increasingly obvious that the “tough on drugs” approach being taken by government was not working and indeed was counterproductive. This was fairly easy to do, given that my political party, the Australian Democrats, held the same view.

Do you feel it’s someone’s right to take illicit drugs?
Apart from human rights, I am uncomfortable with a rights-based approach. I prefer instead an informed choice approach, where users access as much accurate and scientific information as is possible, including the illicit classification (regardless of the sense/senselessness of the classification) and the legal consequences of breaking the law in using that particular drug. The rider to that is age-related. There is evidence to show that the brains of young people develop better if they are not exposed to drugs (including alcohol), so I do support restrictions based on age.

Do you use drugs(including alcohol) recreationally?
Apart from doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals, I use only alcohol, and that is only in very small amounts socially (although liquers used for ice-cream topping are divine!). As a non-user of illicit drugs, I believe that, from a media perspective, it gives a certain credibility, because I am seen to have nothing personal to gain i.e. I am not validating any drug-taking of my own.

South Australia recently banned drug paraphernalia and rejected a call to test MDMA for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Why is the S.A. government abandoning its position as one of the most progressive states on drug policy?
The current Labor Party government in South Australia is a conservative one, dominated by the right faction of the ALP, so the race-to-the-bottom approach (as I call it) is not unexpected, particularly with an ultra-right Attorney-General and a populist Premier. It is unsurprising, for instance, that Premier Rann created a portfolio of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. The SA Government has cleverly read and cultivated fear in the electorate, particularly in the 50+ age group, and uses the issue of drugs to ensure that conservative voters side with them, rather the the Liberal Opposition. This in turn forces the Opposition to take an even more extreme position, and the whole thing becomes circular and self-reinforcing.

During your time in parliament, you were often challenged by independent Anne Bressington about drug issues. Were her actions mostly supported or rejected by your political peers.
The voting record shows that, again and again, the huge majority voted for regressive drug laws – the votes were always 19:2 in the upper house of the SA Parliament (with Mark Parnell, Greens, voting with me).

From your experience, do fellow politicians actually believe the hype that the war on drugs is winnable?
Not all of them do. There is a group called the Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, which contains around 100 members of state and federal parliaments, including about 10 South Australian MPs, but those in the Labor and Liberal Party hide behind the majority decisions of their respective caucus and party-room decisions.

Have you have encountered many obstacles from politicians or the religious right on drug policy?
Attacks from such groups are to be anticipated, and I have certainly been publicly attacked by SA’s Premier Mike Rann. However, the most concerted attacks came from the Murdoch media.

You made an invigorating speech to parliament on Thursday, 27 November 2008 about medical marijuana. In that speech, you said “The message is absolutely abundantly clear that the signatories to this convention, despite problems that might be associated with narcotics, have an obligation to ensure availability of narcotic drugs for the relief of pain and suffering”. How was that received?
For the most part, ‘head in the sand’ was the best way to describe the response, with the exception of Ann Bressington who kept on interjecting the whole time. With the Labor and Liberal Parties having adopted strong anti-drugs positions, there is no prospect of any of those MPs diverting from that position – they have their preselections to consider!

The head of Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the UK was made to apologise for a science paper he submitted to a prestigious medical journal. Is it ethical being forced by the government to apologise for stating facts simply because they do not agree with government policy? Are you aware of a similar situation in Australia?
Service providers which are dependent on government funding must be under immense pressures. Within government in SA, one can also imagine the pressure that must be on some people in South Australia. Mr Keith Evans, who is the Chief Executive of Drug and Alcohol Services SA, was instrumental in SA (and I believe Australia) adopting a harm minimisation policy in regard to drugs, and he now has to preside over an entity which is tied to the government’s anti-drugs position – a position which is increasing drug-related harm. The Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Dr Jane Lomax-Smith, is a pathologist who must know that her government’s position is not a scientifically justified one, yet she is bound to not only uphold her government’s position, but, as Minister, to implement it!

What are your views on Opiate Maintenance Treatment(OMT) in use or on trial in Europe like slow release morphine, injectable hydromorphone, dihydrocodeine and prescription heroin?
Wherever heroin prescription trials have been allowed to run their full course there have been clear economic and social benefits demonstrated, particularly in relation to a reduction in crime, and consequent reduction in the policing of crime. Other benefits include a freeing up of emergency hospital and ambulance resources. So, it just makes sense for Australia to adopt this approach.

Ann Bressington was once a member of Drug Free Australia (DFA), a staunch anti-drug, pro Zero Tolerance organisation. They refer to themselves as a ‘peak body’. Do you consider them a ‘peak body’ and do you have an opinion about them?
Ann Bressington founded ADTARP, and Drugbeat, an affiliate of DFA has an e-mail address that reflects the ADTARP name. Looking at the entire list of DFA affiliates, there are 17 Australian affiliates (I have excluded an insurance company from the total). In addition to those 17, the Board members of DFA are members of another 16 different anti-drugs organisation so that probably qualifies them for the title of a peak body.

Drug Free Australia (DFA) released a media statement calling for the celebration of 100 years of prohibition. How do you feel about this?
An examination of that particular statement leads one to ask what they are on! Their stance is certainly not evidence-based and it is contradictory of its own position. In that release they claim the effectiveness of prohibition and “a significant decline in the consumption of barbiturates and other hypnotic as well as amphetamines”. Yet in another recent release on the DFA website they state: “According to United Nations reports, Australia maintains one of the op places in illicit drug use in the OECD … the use of amphetamines and ecstasy poses the greatest threat”. Which one is it? They also demonstrate a lack of scientific rigour if they believe that ecstasy is one of the greatest threats. As a UK researcher recently pointed out, more people have died in horse-riding accidents than using ecstasy in that country!

Kevin Rudd said in an interview that his policies would be evidenced based. Do you think the Rudd government will expand Harm Minimisation based on evidence or continue with John Howard’s route towards Zero Tolerance?
I have been disappointed with the Rudd Government on many issues – as a government it is merely a slightly lighter shade of blue than the former Liberal government. They are good on symbolism, such as signing the very outdated Kyoto Protocol, but very poor when it comes to the actions that should meet the scientific evidence. If their record on climate change is anything to go by, then we should not get our hopes up about a shift to drug harm minimisation.

Do you have any predictions for the future of Australia’s drug policy?
Sadly, we can expect more of the same. Too many of those holding positions of power choose not to inform themselves, and most of those who know otherwise are fearful of their organisations losing government funding and so keep quiet.

Bronwyn Bishop chaired an enquiry into illicit drugs and produced a report called “The Winnable War on Drugs”. What did you think of it?
This was one of the most appalling pieces of anti-drugs spin that has emerged in Australia in recent years. Its preference for Australia to adopt a zero tolerance approach, which has so badly failed in the US, is indicative of its intellectual quality. The outstandingly worst recommendation was that of removing children from parents who use illicit drugs. It failed to recognise that alcohol is one of the most potent and abused drugs in our society, and did not embrace the users of alcohol in its recommendations. Thank heavens – think of the number of parentless children we would have to accommodate in Australia!

Who do you think are the people in Australia that the government should be consulting with and why?
Government should be consulting scientists and researchers, not moralists, and they should also speak with the users of drugs. But I would never cut any group out of a consultative approach. However, ultimately relying on religious faith to inform health policy is likely to produce at best an uninformed and at worst a dangerous policy. Moralising – categorising the users as bad people and the non-users as good – simply marginalises and makes criminals of people who are not in any way evil.

Finally, if you were Prime Minister Sandra Kanck and you could change one law relating to illicit drugs or drug treatment, what would it be?
It would be for governments to become the providers of drugs, just as the Australian Government farms the opium poppy in Tasmania. Overnight much of organised crime would collapse, the drugs provided would be of a known quality, crime would reduce, and prison numbers would drop.

Q and A: Kerry Wolf - Certified Methadone Advocate (USA)
Q and A: Dr. James Rowe - Lecturer at RMIT, School of Global Studies, Social Science & Planning
Q and A: Gino Vumbaca - Executive Director of the Australian National Council on Drugs
Q and A: Tony Trimingham - Chief Executive Officer, Family Drug Support


Anonymous said...

It's going to be a sad state of affairs in S.A. now.
We needed more Sandra Kancks not less.

Dr. Phil of Sth Australia said...

Thank you Sandra Kanck for such honest and truthful answers. I admire your ability to stand above the bottom biters, plotting and scamming for the sake of a few votes. Why can't all politicians have the same integrity as this shining light of politics. Have to agree with Anonymous, you will be missed.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Anon and Dr Phil.

Yes indeed, she will be missed in SA. If you read through her parliament speeches you will see how well balanced and sensible her discussions really were. Interestingly, you will also see resident nutter, Anne Bressington interjecting constantly.

Sandra will be remembered as one of the few decent and honest politicians in Australia. Let's hope she keeps the momentum up in her new roles.

Anonymous said...

Great questions Terry and some excellent answers. SK is light years ahead of her time and one of the few, truly inspirational politicians.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks for the compliments, Anon.

I agree with your views totally.